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Clearing the air: Do you really need a purifier?

Consumer Reports News: January 25, 2012 05:08 PM

Indoor air can be 10 times more polluted than what you breathe outdoors so getting an air purifier may seem like a natural solution. But some of the models in Consumer Reports recent tests do little to rid a space of dust and smoke. And one air purifier we tested did practically nothing.

Of course, you won’t discover any of that by browsing store shelves. Some of the newest air purifiers have a sleek look and are quiet enough to use in the bedroom—from the retro-radiator Electrolux EL500AZ (see photo) to the modern Humanscale Zon HZAP.

But other models work well only at speeds too loud for sleeping. Certifications on the box mean only so much and in an upcoming post we'll help you decipher the labels. Snatching up the brand you last bought and liked can also bring discontent: Models from Whirlpool and Holmes were among the best and worst we tested.

Among the nearly 40 models we tested is the LightAir IonFlow 50F, $400, which we also tested for our last report in September 2010. With no fan to aid airflow, the LightAir was about as effective at removing dust and smoke in our tests as having no purifier at all. We judged the LightAir a Don’t Buy: Performance Problem, and haven't changed that recommendation.

We don’t recommend buying any air purifier before taking basic steps to clear the air such as banning indoor smoking, removing carpets, banishing pets from bedrooms, and opening windows when possible unless pollen is a concern. No purifier alone will relieve asthma or allergy symptoms.

If you still want a purifier, we also advise against models that, while removing airborne particulates, produce even small amounts of ozone, a respiratory irritant that can aggravate asthma and damage lungs. Most purifiers we tested use filters that create no ozone, but one—the Brookstone Pure Ion Pro—produces small amounts.

Manufacturers recommend air purifiers for rooms of particular sizes. But our tests say a large unit run at a low speed is quieter and more effective than a less capable model run at its highest speed. We'll be posting the full report soon.

Ed Perratore

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